Interior minister surprises by pledging early support for Zeman second-term

Miloš Zeman, photo: Khalil Baalbaki

Deputy chairman of the Social Democrats, Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, has raised eyebrows by saying he would back President Miloš Zeman for a second term. What is surprising is the timing: the president has not yet even announced whether he will run. The Social Democrats, at least those close to Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, would also almost certainly rather leave the question of who to support to next year’s convention, at the earliest.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
I asked political analyst Petr Just how he saw the situation.

“Who the Social Democrats decide to back for president in 2018, whether a candidate already running or their own recruit, will be on one of the big issues of the convention next March; but these calls by Mr Chovanec do not show stability within the party. Certainly if there is anything a party needs it is that: to appear stable from the outside, and to also be stable within. Not to be at odds behind the scenes.

“The problem here is compounded by Mr Chovanec’s history of flip-flops: after the national election in 2013 he was one of several high level Social Democrats who met secretly with President Zeman: at first he was a ‘member’ of this group and later he wasn’t, when he went over to Bohuslav Sobotka, who was prime minister-designate and supported his bid to form the next government. So I think both party members as well as Social Democrat voters may view Mr Chovanec suspiciously as a result.”

Voters are sometimes criticized for having ‘short-term memories’ but this was a group of influential Social Democrats who were alleged to have plotted against the prime minister-designate after the party won something of a Pyrrhic victory (a far weaker result than had been expected). And Mr Chovanec changed sides. So politically do you think that this is something which could backfire?

Milan Chovanec,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“I think it is a big risk which Mr Chovanec has taken. He may be betting that he will probably benefit if the Social Democratic Party eventually turns more towards President Zeman but it is risky because it could evoke past moves he took before and past flip-flops. In politics there are some emotional terms which most resonate in the public eye and these are ‘betrayal’ and ‘political assassination’. These terms can definitely be seized upon by his critics who will charge that the minister is undercutting the party leader and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. It can appear that he until now only pretended to be on the party chairman’s side.”